With the increase in the number of children placed into foster care across the nation, there has been at the same time a tremendous challenge, nationwide, of retaining foster parents. Indeed, the turnover rate of foster parents ranges from 30% to 50%. Thus, 30% to 50% of foster parents make the decision to no longer be a foster parent home for children in need. As a result, with the increase in children in foster care paired with the decrease in number of foster parents, the end result is simply that there are not enough homes for children in need to be placed in, or a child is moved from one home to another, and so on and so forth.
Just why is there a problem with retaining good foster parents? Why do so many agencies across the nation, both state funded and private, struggle with the challenge of foster parent retention? Over 400 foster parents from across the nation in 2016 took part in a survey conducted by The Foster Care Institute. The makeup of survey participants included a wide range of experienced foster parents. 8% of those surveyed had only been foster parenting for one year or less. 34% of foster parents surveyed had been fostering between 1 and 5 years. 29% taking part in the survey had been foster parents between 6 and 10 years, and an additional 29% had been caring for children in foster care in their homes for over 10 years.
One factor that stood out in the survey was the issue of feelings of grief and loss for foster parents. Perhaps not surprisingly, 80% of foster parents taking place in the survey have experienced feelings of grief and loss after a child from foster care had transitioned out of their home, with another 5% indicating that they were currently experiencing such feelings. Yet, despite the large numbers of foster parents who have experienced feelings of grief and loss, only 33% felt that they have enough training in this area. The remaining 67% indicated that they sometimes, rarely, or never have enough training in this area. Furthermore, 50% stated that they take enough time between placements of children in their home in order to grieve when a child leaves, with the other 50% indicating that they do not.
A number of foster parents addressed this issue when given the opportunity to freely comment. Some of these comments are below.
Participant #3: “More training in grief. This is so hard.”
Participant#7 “The hardest part of being a foster parent for me is when my kiddos leave my house.”
Participant #10: “I wish my caseworker would understand that my heart literally breaks in half when the kiddos leave my home.”
Participant #31: “Taking the time our family needs to grieve when our kiddos go home”
Participant #57”More training in grief and loss”
Participant #72 “We learned the hard way how to take care of ourselves.”
Participant #108 : More information on grief and loss after a child has left the foster parents' home.
The topic of grief and loss is examined in full in the book The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe, and Stable Home (DeGarmo, 2013). Grief can be expressed in variety of ways, depending upon the individual, as it is personal. Some will shed tears and cry while others will hold it inside. Some will busy themselves in a task, while other will seem detached and far away. The departure of your foster child from your home can be one that is devastating to you and your family. A brief look at the stages of grief, based upon Kubler-Ross' well known stages of grief established in 1969, is important in order to fully understand the feelings that may come along with the removal of your foster child from your family. These same feelings may be felt by your foster child when he is removed from his own home, and first placed in yours.
The removal of the foster child may bring feelings of shock to the foster family. After a family member has formed an emotional attachment to the family, the sudden removal may cause deep shock and uncertainty, leaving the foster family confused.
With a sudden departure, some foster parents may deny that they ever formed a relationship with their foster child, or feel any sadness towards the removal. Even though they deny these feelings, they grieve believing that they were unable to provide the help the child needed.
A foster child’s removal from a foster parent home may bring feelings of anger and severe disappointment with the caseworker, as well as with the child welfare agency system. Foster parents may blame the system or caseworker for the placement of their foster child into an environment they feel is not productive, or even harmful to the child.
During this stage, foster parents may experience feelings of guilt, blaming themselves with the belief that they are at fault, and try to comprehend what they did “wrong” in the removal of the foster child. Still, other foster parents may experience guilt if they were the ones asking for the removal, as they were unable to continue caring for the child.
Some foster parents will try to substitute the grief they have with helping others in need, in an attempt to justify the loss of their foster child. Other will try to substitute the loss with the placement of another foster child in their home, hoping that this new placement will help them forget about the child that just left.
There are different components to depression brought on by grief. Some foster parents will become easily irritated; others will experience a constant state of feeling tired. Others will feel as if they can no longer continue with their day to day lives, and have a difficult time with the tasks associated with family, friends, work, and marriage.
After the passage of time, the grief from the loss of the foster child decreases, allowing the foster parent to accept the removal of the child, and move on. The emotional well being of the foster parent improves, and a sense of understanding of the child’s removal becomes clearer.
According to the survey many of these foster parents feel they do not receive enough access to the resources and training they need when they are experiencing feelings of grief and loss. While 33% responded that they do receive enough resources and training, another 32% indicated that they only sometimes receive such training and resources. 16% indicated that they rarely receive the training and resources they need, while 18% stated that they never receive the training and resources they need while grieving the loss of a child from foster care in their home.
To be sure, continuing education for foster parents is essential. Making the decision to being a foster parent is a difficult one. It takes incredible commitment, unconditional love, and patience. After you determined that you are ready to begin, there are long hours of training ahead of you before your first foster child is placed in your home, and becomes part of your family. These hours of training will go a long way in helping you prepare for the many challenges that await you as a foster parent.
A lack of support from their caseworkers and agencies during times of burnout may point to another factor in retaining foster parents. According to the survey, 44% of those foster parents participating indicated that they did not receive the support that they felt they needed from their caseworker or agency during times of burnout and stress while caring for children from foster care in their homes. Only 36% stated that they received the support from their caseworkers and agencies that they needed during that time, while 18% indicated that they had never experienced burnout.
When given the opportunity to answer the question, “What would help you as a foster parent?” a number of foster parents focused on support issues. Here is a sampling.
Participant #17: “The problems I'm having are that my child's caseworker rarely answers my emails or voicemails. They expect me to be able to drop everything at a moments notice for them. And when the last child was moved from my home to be with family I was given 24 hours to get his things packed.
Participant #18: “I also feel that it takes too long to receive feedback from the people in charge.”
Participant #21: Taking the time our family needs to grieve when our kiddos go home. Sometimes it feels hard to step back in to the chaos after a break
Participant #24: More support and help in a timely manner when we needed to have a child removed and placed elsewhere
Participant #34: Having the agency support what I do as a foster parent and listen to me.
Participant #36: More training. I love everything to learn
Participant #39: Cpc caseworkers following up in things and answering there (sic) phone
Participant #43: The workers didn't offer any help and the only reason the kids left is because we were burned out and requested removal because we couldn't handle 5 mentally challenged (ADHD, bi polar) kids plus raise our toddler and still be functional. It was horrible.
Participant #49: More support from case workers
Participant #51: More information on grief and loss after a child has left the foster parents' home.
Participant #78: more training and more support
Grief and loss resources, training, and understanding, as well as issues of support are key issues in regards to retaining foster parents. As more children enter into foster care from across the nation, it is even more important that foster parents receive the resources, training and support they need as they care for children suffering from trauma and abuse. Next month, the Foster Care Institute shall examine the results about how foster parents view their relationships with caseworkers, and how this may affect foster parent retention.